In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]
OK; I think we are about all here so perhaps we can get started and I would like to make sure that everyone knows that Gary Moon is here, and Regina. I hope you will have an opportunity to get to know them. They are a great blessing…..a gift of God.
So, this morning, we want to start out by looking at the classical passage in the Bible on spirituality and ministry and so if you would take your text and turn to 2 Corinthians 2:14, we will start there and we won’t do all of this passage. This is the passage I am asking you to read once a day or it’s one of the passages. The story here is Paul’s, how he ministered and its amazingly simple, but it involves how he learned to rely upon God to produce an effect and I want to repeat that statement—how he learned to rely upon God to produce an effect—Paul was a person who had great ability. He was a genuine alpha-dog and if anyone had any basis to trust themselves, it was certainly Paul and he lays that out, by the way, in Philippians 3. Philippians is an extension of this testimony about how he worked and in Philippians 3, he goes through the whole process of listing the sorts of things that you and I might put on our resume or our curriculum vitae and after having done that, he says, “It’s all dung” and you can put it in modern day English. [2:58]
Now, he was thinking of that in comparison to the real stuff that really did make a difference and he goes on to explain what that is—“that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering not that I’ve already attained and so forth, I press on,” and so forth and so on. But you do have to be careful and understand he’s not talking about where he is at that point as a beginner. He is talking about what he is doing as someone who is a way down the road—not a beginner—and explaining how he lives as someone who has come to understand “shall we say” spirituality and ministry. Now, in 2 Corinthians, I hope I said that first—[you did]—okay, he is explaining to the Corinthians how he is lead and guided by the spirit. First of all, he has little account of why he hasn’t come to them when he thought maybe he would and he had talked with them about it and how God moves him about and after having explained some of his behavior in the verses 11, 12 and 13 of 2 Corinthians 2, he says—he begins to explain what’s going on in his life. He says, verse 14, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him—the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him” in every place. Now, remember that knowledge is interactive relationship—he’s not talking about his academic understanding of theology and of Christ but he’s talking about living in an interactive relationship with Christ. That is knowledge and that relationship makes itself present where you are. So, notice how this goes, “We are a fragrance of Christ.” We smell like Christ. People often don’t know what is going on. They don’t understand but they are being affected by something and that power that comes out of the knowledge of Christ without our doing anything about it. This isn’t something that we sort of push a button like we might a spray can and send off some deodorant. It’s something that comes out of who they are without any special provision—a light bulb doesn’t need to announce that it has been turned on. If it’s on, you know it and likewise, the person who is a friend and follower and companion of Christ is someone that doesn’t need to announce it. They may need to explain it—sometimes that’s necessary because some people want to know what’s going on and sometimes then we can be helpful but we don’t need to announce it. To some of these people, we are a fragrance of Christ, by the way—to God. That’s the direction of the fragrance—it’s to God. Now, it becomes known, wherever we are and its known by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. Two classes of people—the response is not forced. The response to a life in Christ is something that comes out of who the people are? That’s responding and one class of people notice the difference and it smells like death to them. It doesn’t seem to be something good and a response to that is an attempt to kill people. You may be impressed by how often in the Bible people are talking about killing someone. Well, let’s kill Lazarus. He didn’t stay dead and now then people are having—so let’s kill him. OK. Notice how often people decide the thing to do with Jesus is kill him—the murderous heart of the fallen human being. [9:09] It’s not unnatural that Cain would have killed his brother; that drive to kill to get people out of the way—to dispense with them is a major part of what shows up sometimes even in our churches. It might not manifest itself in murderous action but actually sometimes it does that. So, that odor of the person who is alive in Christ and living in the interactive relationship with Him and with God, that odor to those who are caught up in death smells like death. And it is death to them. It’s the end of their life—their project and so, that’s how it comes over but then of course to others, we are an aroma of life to life.
If people are turned toward God, then the presence of one who is living in this relationship is life-giving and promising, beautiful, strengthening, life. When Paul says, “Now, who is adequate for these things?” That’s at the end of verse 16 and the answer to that question is, “No one, except God.” This isn’t something that we arrange to polish up our ministry. This is God’s business and that’s the main point now of what follows. Who is adequate for them? Verse 17, “We are not like many peddling the word of God.” What is He talking about? He’s talking about people who are acting as if they were adequate to explain the effects of the presence of God in ones’ life. And so, they decide that they will bring something that sounds like the message of Christ but they will kind of “fix it up a bit” and they will try to make it effective by how they polish it and present it. Paul says, “We don’t do that. We don’t put on a performance. We just speak sincerely.” We just say here is how it is and as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. [11:49]
Now, that’s crucial to ministry that we understand that ministry is a function of the spirit of God with us. It really does depend upon our having come to grips with the fact that we can’t do it. And Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2 is talking about that and he’s talking about how when he came to Corinth, he was not speaking with great wisdom and power as we might understand that. Rather, he was fearful and verse 1 of chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians, “When I came to you brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom proclaiming to you to the testimony of God.” Now, we have to think about that and how much time we invest in trying to speak with superiority of speech or wisdom. Paul stayed away from this like poison because he understood that if he wasn’t careful, he would produce an effect that was not from God and that’s why he says, “I determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. One of the most often quoted and misquoted verses in the Bible. So let me, with my wisdom, tell you want this means. OK? What he’s referring to is the fact that when he spoke, he was only watching for the effect of Christ in his hearers. That’s what he was looking for and that’s all he wanted to see.
“I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My message and my preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of the power that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God.” Now, that’s his understanding of ministry and so, very typically; all Paul did was show up some place and start talking. He expected and he saw that God acted and he was making very sure that he didn’t get in the way. He watched this repeatedly in the opening to 1 Thessalonians, you will see him talking about this. The Thessalonians were among the earlier groups that he showed up and talked with and he was in the process of sort of being chased all across Turkey and parts of Europe now. Here is what he says in verse 4 of Thessalonians, chapter 1, “ Knowing brethren beloved of God, His choice of you—the fancy word is election—now notice how he knew—verse 5: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, just as you know what kind of men we prove to be among you for your sake.” Wow! Wow! Why did he say that? Well, that was his theme that he came among people just sincere, open minded, open hearted, humble person and that was connected with his knowledge that when the gospel was spoken, the Holy Spirit has an effect in transforming people. I must confess to you that I’ve had a lot of experience with preaching, which was in words only and it’s a really unhappy thing. So, I thought that’s what I was supposed to do when I first started preaching was that I was to think up words and go say them to people. And so I did the best could with that which wasn’t very good to tell you the truth. [16:55] And Paul knows the difference of a word with power and words without power. We will look at some of his talk about the Kingdom of God in this connection. But you see here he is saying, “The Gospel did not come to you in Word only.” Well, what did He come to you in? It came in the presence of the Spirit. [17:16]
Now, we spent all day yesterday talking about Spirit. It takes some getting used to because it is not in the visible world and so then how can we work with it? The only simple explanation is of course we have to come to know it and we have to have a life in us, which is not of ourselves, but the only simple way of putting it is expectation. You work with the spirit through expectation. You can put faith in there and trust in there if you like. They go well in that context but another way of putting it is, you rely on it. You rely on the Spirit. Now, you can invoke it and talk to it and all those sorts of things but in the process of ministry, you rely upon this invisible reality to accomplish what God wants to accomplish in the lives of the hearers and if you don’t, you just wind up in a struggle –a fleshly struggle with them trying to get them to do things and one of the things that characterizes so much of our church membership today is they became members by people trying to get them to do something and we want to think about that practice of trying to get people to do things. Now, what would be the alternative? Well, an alternative would be helping them to come to know things and then letting what they do come out of that and that is why it’s so important that teaching about knowledge, which we will return to repeatedly as we go through this, because it’s so often missed. We bring knowledge—witness is the bringing of knowledge. [19:43] It is not trying to convert people. Now, if you try to convert people, you will get some of them converted and then you will have to spend the rest of your time trying to get them to do things that they don’t want to do which is basically what happens in many of our ministerial settings—trying to get people to do people to do things that they don’t want to do—and if you are very good at that, you will be called a successful minister. Right? Because you will get them to give money, attend and do things and so on. It’s a totally different picture what Paul is talking about He’s talking about bringing through the gospel knowledge of God, of Christ, and then allowing people to respond to the knowledge which they now have. Well, Paul goes on back in 2 Corinthians, Paul goes on to talk about how he works and some of this I think is difficult to discern because the translators are having a problem with it and it’s no wonder because it’s really very different. You will notice verse 1 of chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need as some need letters of recommendation to you or from you?” No. “You are our letter,” Paul says. You are our letter. What you are, what you have become in response to the teaching that you received under the administration of the Holy Spirit, the word of the Gospel—“you are our letter written in our hearts, known and read of all men; you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart.” So, now then, he goes on to talk about his confidence in terms of which he ministers and his confidence is that the Spirit of God will accomplish the ministry. [21:44]
Now, Paul, of course, as you know, is a person who worked very hard, suffered a lot, stayed on the path, developed an amazing theology—he was a great thinker and all of that but his confidence was not in that. His confidence was in the Spirit of God working with and around him to bring people to knowledge of Christ. The ministry was something that was accomplished out of who he had become and who he was trusting and what he was relying on. Well I don’t want to spend much more time on this passage but I did want to say some things about it because I am hoping now as you read this daily it will begin to be more and more meaningful to you. I do like so much verse 12 “Having therefore such a hope in the Spirit of Christ, we use great boldness in our speech.” Now, I think you will get the sense better if you read “plainness” and some of your translations do use great plainness and again, what he is talking about here is simply he didn’t dress it up and his reputation was that he was not a good speaker. You may want to look at 2 Corinthians 10:10 to get the scoop on Paul as he himself understood it and he gives there his reputation among people who knew him. Said well, his letters are really substantial, personally he’s not much and his speech stinks. Now you know you have to wonder, would you like to go out on the circuit with that reputation? Suppose that’s how you were introduced? Well here’s Dallas Willard, you know, writes lots of heavy books. Not much to look at and you better get ready to pinch the person next to you to keep them awake because he’s not a good speaker. Now that’s Paul’s—see, he gloried in that because he knew what it meant. He knew that grace is not the consolation prize as we are apt to read that verse following on where he is talking about how he talked with God about this and God said, “My grace is sufficient to you.” And often I think when people read that, they think well, it’s getting out the spare tire and putting it on but grace is not a consolation prize. It is not a replacement for something better, especially not human abilities. [25:39]
This talk about the spirit now is really important for us to keep in mind. This is the area that we live in and work in. We need, for example to learn not to be impressed by the physical appearance of people and the road that we grow up in is one that sort of takes that as the indication of who they are but no, this says that’s not who they are. Who they are is what they are as a spiritual being. They are their consciousness. That’s what their life consists in and you want to not be mislead by how they look. That’s a great challenge to overcome in life and in ministry when you are conducting a ministry and people come to associate. Well, how they look often is more important than who they are and one of the real disasters in Christian ministry is if you have an effective ministry, people are apt to be drawn to you who really are not with you but they like your success and that is the downfall eventually of most movements. You go back through history and you will see that and we will talk more about that as we go along.
But now after our talk yesterday, I wonder if you can say this with me. It’s in your notebook. “I am a never ceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” Can we say that? “I am a never ceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” Now, I say that to you. You are a never ceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. I say that to my children. I say that to my neighbors. See? And that’s the point of that passage that I read to you from C.S. Lewis from the Weight of Glory. You remember that? It’s to try to help us adjust our perceptions of human beings so that we see them as spiritual beings in a spiritual context. I don’t know if you read Bonheoffer’s, Life Together, but the first part of that little book which has so much value in it is really talking about how to meet others and he says to never meet them one on one. Meet them with God and that helps us think about how we might go to church. What are we doing as we go to church? Well, that’s a really important thing to think about. How do we meet our brothers and sisters when we go to church? Do we meet them as C.S. Lewis might suggest? Do we meet them as spiritual beings with an eternal destiny? Well, we want to talk about this again when we talk about fellowship. Fellowship is meant to be a primary discipline for the spiritual life but it all depends on what you think it is and if you think it’s being in the knife and fork brigade as we sometimes say, that probably isn’t fellowship. It might have some use but we need to think in spiritual terms of what we are doing here. [29:51]
Alright; well, I wanted to impress you as much as I could with that and we want to just briefly review now spirit and spirituality—how we think about God on page 88 of your notebook, jumping ahead a bit—there’s a section on worship and celebration and we are going to come back to this and spend time on it but I wanted just to call your attention to this statement by A. W. Tozer on page 89, right at the bottom of the page. Tozer says, “It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century—that’s when he was writing—is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the most high God and actually to constitute for professed believers something accounting to a moral calamity.” So, I said last time all of the troubles of human beings come from thinking wrongly about God and of course, thinking rightly about God helps us in every aspect of our lives.
There is a tragic story down in Texas—a lady and her husband had a little five-year-old boy that was accidentally run over and killed by a neighbor. Of course, that’s something that is so painful and harmful but this lady said something that I thought was very profound and helpful and that was, she said, “The only relief I ‘ve found was in thinking about the attributes of God”—thinking about the attributes of God. Now, that’s a task that most people can’t get into because they are not used to thinking about God and so our first session on spirituality and the nature of God was one where I wanted to do everything I could to get us thinking about the God rightly. What it means to be someone who is able to place their mind on God and keep it there to draw themselves away from obsession with their own physical attributes and of course, in the case of this lady, she was thinking about her son and what had happened to him and so this has so many implications and connections. To think of God rightly opens the door to a life of constant joy and peace and security because it enables us to see ourselves rightly before God. God is love. Well, what does that mean to a person who doesn’t really have an idea of God and they are apt to wind up thinking love is God. That’s a real mistake for a person who doesn’t know what love is to wind up saying, well, God is love and love is God and I love and it’s all about love and well, that’s a pretty hopeless position to be in. Once you begin to understand the nature of God and the greatness of God, then you are able to start understanding what love is and then you understand the miracle is not that God loves you or me, the miracle would be if He didn’t love you or me. God is love. It isn’t that God loves. He is love and when you attach that to all of the other understandings of His nature, His knowledge, His ability, what He’s about and you begin to look at creation and everything around you in the light of that, and suddenly you find yourself able to rest in God. Isaiah 26:3-4 is a great verse that the old translation puts as follows: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord our God forever for in Him is everlasting strength.” See. [35:33]
Now, if we are going to talk about spirituality, that’s where we have to start. Coming to clarity about God enables our minds to be fixed in a certain way. There’s a poet by the name of Sydney Lanier, down in the south, in Georgia and he wrote a wonderful word about laying ahold of God. He said “As the marsh hen secretly builds on the watery sod, behold I will build me a nest in the greatness of God. I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh hen flies and the freedom that fills all the space puts the marsh in the skies. By so many roots as the marsh grass sends in the sod, I will heartily lay me ahold of the greatness of God.” So, everything that we do now in understanding spirituality and ministry above all how we ourselves are transformed comes to a basis in the understanding of God. So, we tried to lay an emphasis on that and I hope that that will give us a foundation for going on from there. [37:05}
Now, who is the spiritual person? Who is the spiritual person? I try to stick into your notebook little summaries that is very important to have a way of thinking about who is the spiritual person because in the day where you have people from all quarters struggling to develop spirituality, there’s a great danger that we will be mislead in thinking about who the spiritual person is. Its on page 39 of your notes. It’s a little diagram over on page 39 but let me just give you some of the wording here on the left hand side of that page. [38:06]
So, I summarize a spiritual life for man, woman consists in that range of activities in which he being brought to spiritual birth by God’s initiative through the word cooperatively interacts with God and with the spiritual order or Kingdom derived from God’s personality and action. The result is a new overall quality of human existence with corresponding new powers. This is the life from above and makes us citizens of Heaven now, as Paul says in Philippians 3. So, a person is a spiritual person to the degree that his or her life is correctly integrated into and dominated by God’s spiritual Kingdom or rule. The babe in Christ has spiritual life but in a largely incipient form. Many of our folks that we minister to are babes in Christ in the biblical sense. They haven’t grown up spiritually and so they continue to be occupied with stuff that doesn’t matter. Paul’s illustration, as you may recall in 1 Corinthians 3, was people who were scrabbling about who was the best preacher—Paul or Apollos or Peter or who? They had a special group that said, “Well, we are the party of Christ” and that kind of stuff goes on constantly in our churches and those are babes in Christ. If they had grown up, they would know that if Apollos did something, it wasn’t Apollos. If Paul accomplished something, it wasn’t Paul and Paul goes on to explain that. It’s the life that is in the person that fits one for ministry, not the kind of glamor that they might have. Perhaps they glitter when they walk and if you follow that, then you are off the spiritual side and you are onto the fleshly side. So, a spiritual person then, is someone who is living from the spiritual Kingdom of God.
Now, I want to stop and see if you have questions or comments about that because that is so important that we really must not go on if there are problems and you know, I am very happy for you to disagree with me about what I say. The important thing is that you develop an understanding of the spirit and spirituality that will serve you well as you walk with Christ. So, are there any comments or questions about that before we go on?
Q: How do you deal with becoming a new pastor in an old church?
Well, that’s well said. That’s a great problem. That’s one reason I believe why someone who has pastored a church should never stay there when they retire from there. They should go someplace else. That will help the people coming in to make an adjustment, but it’s a well known fact that if you have a very famous ministry, the next person who comes in, they might as well burn him on the spot and get on to the third one [Laughter] because it’s just murder on a person to try to step into that and they have to have great spiritual maturity and confidence in God to carry through with it, precisely because the expectations of the people.
So, obviously, I would say that one of the first things that you have to do if you come in is be careful with your teaching and make sure that you address the issue of expectations and help people move on in their understanding. So, that’s a great problem. No question about it. [43:06]
And you don’t always survive but then that goes back to your spirituality facing that—what’s your recourse? What are your resources facing the very threat that you will not survive as pastor of that church or leader in that context because this also happens to Para church groups—same sort of thing. So, it’s all about expectations—what are our expectations based on? And if we are confident of the reality of God and His presence with us, then we place our expectations in Him and I believe we will see Him in action and even there, it may not mean that we will manage to survive in that context because one response, as Paul notes is, “death unto death” and you can be in a position where your people are looking at you and saying, “That’s Mr. Death.” Right? So, we have to get rid of him.
Q: When someone new comes to church seeking God, I want them to be around people living the truth and be involved. Can you tell me if there is a flaw in that thinking?
Your aim now is to help them to come to know God. There may be many things that you might do to help them do that and some of those might include things like, “Well, why don’t you come to our session on Wednesday nights dealing with learning to curse people?” and let them think about that, see. Learning to curse people? Don’t we know enough about that? Actually, we don’t. We don’t understand what cursing is but we have the teaching of Jesus, “Bless those who curse you.” So, you learn ways of putting things that will intrigue people and I think we should work hard at that and that’s a part of creativity. Creative action—we are trying to find things that will be helpful and under that heading, there might be some things—well, invite them over for dinner and you could say, well, that’s trying to get them to do something—and it is—but that’s not the objective. The objective is to bring them to a knowledge of God, which will then govern what they do.
The person, for example who knows how to drive an automobile—if you are riding with them, unless you are an accomplished back seat driver, you normally don’t tell them what to do. They know what to do and so, they do it, right? And that’s where we want people in life. We want to give them knowledge and allow that knowledge to govern their lives. It may be that on some occasion, like I have learned to respect my wife’s expressions of anticipation of disaster, shall we say? [Laughter] It’s a challenge because I don’t think she’s ever made the same sound twice [More Laughter] but I recognize the generic form and I learned long ago, to just say that I need all the help I can get. So, there is give and take about this, Terry and judgment but I really think if we don’t take it as our main object to help people know something and as I mentioned, witness has to do with causing people to know. It isn’t expressing your beliefs and hoping they will agree with you. A witness in court—one of the things they don’t want to hear is, “What do you believe?” “Well, let me give my testimony.” No, they don’t want that. They want, “What do you know?” Even that’s hard enough but witness—that first part of the word, “wit” is tied to the old German root “visten” and it has to do with knowing and that has lost a lot of its meaning when we speak of someone as being witty for example. These things are worth thinking about and I mean, who is a witty person? Well, it takes an analysis to get to that but usually a witty person is someone who helps you see something that you didn’t see before and now, that has come to be funny, so it usually now a witty person is one who is good with jokes. But, then you think about jokes and what is required to get a joke? Right? So, all of this stuff we need to spend some time thinking about in order to come to a right appreciation of what we are doing when we help people understand spiritual reality. [48:54] and to come to a right apprehension of the spirituality of God and how that relates to creation and how it relates to us and how we are spiritual beings ourselves is a major part of what we do in ministry. Really, we only do it, I believe with the benefit of the spirit working with us and I am pretty sure that all of you have had experiences when you are in a situation when all of a sudden you know something that you didn’t know. It was given to you and it fit right into what you are dealing with. You see, that’s the spirit working with you and very often, when God speaks to you, it’s something that comes out of your mouth before you knew it and that’s one of the ways that God speaks. He gives us something and we say it before we knew it and then we know it. Right? Now, that’s living in the ministry of the spirit and what you learn is when you go into ministry, leave a little space for God to get in a word in case He wants to. So, over preparation can be pretty bad. [50:35]
OK, so now, the gospel. The world we live in today is one that provides people with basically three general messages and they need to be broken down and gone into a bit more but basically there is a kind of theistic message that comes out of the Christian past of our culture and that is the idea that there is a personal being—God, and that this being is in action and there are some possibilities of relating to Him. [Refer to overhead slide] That’s one of the messages and probably everything considered, it’s the most common one, though many people don’t really know much about it. Something like 73 or 75% of Americans will identify as Christians and that’s really something we need to talk about and we will talk about that some. That’s not a bad thing but if you press them, you are apt to find they don’t really know much about it and they don’t understand how that makes any difference to their lives.
Now, you have another teaching, which I call scientistic here and that one is that reality is matter (the “natural” world) and it’s complications. This is not a scientific view; it gets associated with that but it’s actually a scientistic view and you hear that from many popular exponents of atheism and agnosticism in recent years in our society. People like Dawkins and others that write books and say that this is reality so reality is matter “the natural.” Now, interestingly enough, people can try to tack a spirituality onto that and an interesting but unhappy outcomes in interesting ways, they will try to approach this from a point of view that makes nature or matter something even sacred or holy. Now, Dawkins doesn’t do that but that is one of the ways that this can go.
It’s related to the third form here, which I just call Nirvana/New Age. It’s actually the oldest age view on the earth and this is one that really says all of differentiation or distinguishing that goes on in the world is not real. The world as we view it is an illusion and we, as part of that world, are also an illusion. So, the message here is, “Don’t worry; nothing bad can happen to you because bad stuff doesn’t exist and you don’t even exist.” And the secret here is, nirvana, the disappearance of the world that we are familiar with and so this is often present in a lot of writing here locally, Mary Ann Williamson and others and—the course in Miracles and southern California is very fruitful in producing views of this kind.
Now, they all have an approach to reality that is designed to solve the problem of how to live and when we present the message that we have to present—I’m sorry this is not very clear. Any of these things I put up, I will leave them up here in case you want to look at them later—the message that we present when we stand up to teach or preach or write or whatever it is that we do, this is the competition and actually, the way the first one is usually presented, it is a part of the competition because it represents a form of religion that stands as an alternative to the kind of reality of the spiritual life and the spiritual person that I believe Jesus brings into the world culminating the experience of the Old Testament and of course, you have these wonderful presentations of it like the 23rd Psalm—see, the 23rd Psalm is not a presentation of any one of these though nearly all of them will try to take over something as great and beautiful as the 23rd Psalm and somehow work it into their understanding but the 23rd Psalm is an explicit expression of life in the Kingdom of God. From beginning to end, “the Lord is my shepherd”—see, that’s a personal relationship with the Lord. “I shall not want”—astonishing claim to make but that’s exactly what Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount and so on. Now, the 23rd Psalm is spoken from the inside of someone who is has really identified with this and of course, multitudes of people cannot say “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” because they don’t accept that and they are into one or another of the three things that we have up here. [57:25]
So, now, let’s work awhile from our notebook, page 16 and try to position what we are saying now in the light of what we did last time.
So, we begin thinking now about what is the gospel of Christ? What is the reality of the gospel? How does it exist in our world? How do we speak it and those are questions that we really have to come to terms with as we live our lives and as we minister as pastors and teachers and writers and fathers and mothers and all of the relationships that we live.
Let’s start out now with how the gospel appears in the New Testament. Paul, in Romans, chapter 1, verse 16 through 17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and to the Gentile for therein the righteousness of God is revealed.” Let’s take a few moments on this now. [59:00]
The gospel is a message that has a reality in its own right that consists in words and these words have the ability to save people, and save here—you want to try to keep in mind that generally speaking in the Bible, salvation and saved refers to deliverance. [59:45] It delivers you and it delivers you by revealing the righteousness of God to you in such a way that is changes you. See, when Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” he is saying, “Look, I have carried this out.” I go out presenting this and it really works and that’s why I am not ashamed of it. It is the dynamite of God unto salvation; it will blow you away but then he says to those who believe so it’s not like something mechanical. You still have to respond and the intricacies of that calls for a lot of theology and speculation but I just want to focus here on the idea that this is the power of God to deliverance.
So, you have that wonderful statement in Colossians 1:13 about what had happened to the Colossians. They were blown into a different Kingdom if you wish. Colossians 1:13: “For He the Father delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.” That’s the reality—the gospel is a spiritual reality itself so when you are working with the gospel you are working in the domain of the spiritual reality of God. If you believe; that is to say, if you put your confidence in that message and that means you start relying on it, your faith is not just an understanding. It is a posture of reliance upon something. Trust does a better job for us than faith because of the history of the words. I have seen many Faith Lutheran Churches or Baptist Churches; I have never seen a Trust Lutheran Church. Isn’t that an interesting—if you see the world trust, you are usually thinking of some sort of legal or financial operation. So, you have trusts there but that’s in part is a reflection of the history of how we have learned to talk about faith in a way that does not involve trust. Sometimes, we need to back up and say well what we are really talking about here is belief or confidence—if you have faith in something, you are prepared to act as if it were so. Right? Now, you can still be wrong with faith or belief but fundamentally, you couldn’t live without it because your need to act always outruns what you can know and what you can verify and so you form a framework of ideas about what’s reliable and what isn’t and that allows you to do things like get out and drive a car down the road which involves a huge amount of trust but in that case, usually is well surrounded by knowledge as well.
So, Paul here is saying something that Jesus also says in John 6. I’ll give you a reference here to John 6:63 and this is a really important passage for us to deal with and think about because Jesus had said one of the most shocking things possible, especially for a Jewish teacher to say and it had been taken in a way which was disastrously wrong because what Jesus had said here in Matthew 6 was: “That unless people ate His flesh and drank His blood, they had no hope of salvation.” Verse 56 of John 8, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Now, the abiding language in the gospel of John is something really important for us to try to master—dwelling is a better word than abiding for our purposes. Dwelling—living in, so the language all through the gospel—John 8 where He says, “If you continue many of the translations—if you continue but it’s actually the same word “abide, dwell in, live in.” If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples or John 15, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, that’s the same word “minno”—basically a verb which means “to live in or to dwell.” [1:06:08]
Now this idea of “indwelling” is also; you can put that in terms of interacting. Interacting is not as rich a word but we have a real problem of coming to a clear understanding of abiding. I can do better with His words abiding in me. I make a lot of empirical sense out of that. I know how to live with that because I know how to take His words in and I know what its like for them to be active in me and so we have to work on this language in various ways to try to get a sense of what is being said. The people who heard this took it to refer to Jesus’ actual blood and body. Now, in this wonderful place where we are, of course, we are living in a situation that continued that transition and so when you look at things you might think a little strange—like doctrines of transubstantiation, you have to realize that if you take this literally, you‘ve got to have some way of getting the body and blood of Christ. Right? So, Jesus looks at how people are—you know, the faces they are making and the sounds they are making and realizes that they didn’t get it. Verse 61 says, “They were grumbling.” That’s a neat human response; it shows up often in the scriptures. Often, the Pharisees are presented as grumbling but His disciples also grumbled and another word that occurs in that verse is stumble. Grumbling and stumbling kind of go together. So, Jesus just blows this open with verse 62. Look, He says, “You don’t understand what you are dealing with in me.” He says, “What if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?” Now, He pulled that on other occasions. Remember, he said that to Nathanial when Nathaniel said, “Wow, you must be the Messiah because you saw me under the fig tree.” Jesus said, “You ain’t see nothing yet.” Right?
So, this is a problem trying to understand who Jesus is and how He works and verse 63 says, “It is the spirit who gives life.” Now, that was His intention with His words was to give life and you go back and you look and you will see those passages about receiving life and so He says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you don’t have any life in you.” And they immediately go in the wrong direction and He says, “No, that’s not it. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, they are life.” OK, now that’s the reality of the gospel. The gospel is a spiritual reality. It brings life under the administration of the spirit to those who will receive it. So, when you speak the gospel, you are dealing with dynamite which is the word that’s used in Romans 1:17, “the power of God unto salvation” or 16. [1:10:34]
OK, now, I am really anxious….I hope properly, that you will be able to understand this. So when you speak the gospel, it’s not words. Of course, it’s words but words are spiritual realties and when you take the gospel—we have to spend most of our time this morning on what that is and we will get to that after the break but what I concerned now is that we understand that when we speak the gospel, we are taking a power—a power, the spirit, the words I speak to you; they are spirit. They are life. Now, remember spirit is what produced the whole physical creation. So, spirit is not a little “steam out of the kettle.” It’s the root of everything that exists in the physical world. That’s why creation so routinely shows up in prayer context in the Bible. If you watch that, you will notice that in over and over in prayer context, it always starts with, “You created everything.” That’s a pretty good place to start if you are going to pray, you know? And, over and over, you will see that working, created everything: sometimes also adding the covenant relationship. “Well, you called Abraham and you stayed with his people and Nehemiah and other passages that are referring to God in history. You have those two things: creation and history. That’s the power. That’s spirit. That’s what you have to work with when you speak the gospel. You have that to work with. So, now the nature response would be now then when you speak the gospel to expect to see those kinds of effects and that’s again to go back to Paul, that’s why he just took off across the landscape. Now, he didn’t do that without a long period of preparation—decades of preparation but when the time came, he didn’t send out George Barna to take a survey, you know? He just showed up and talked and that’s where I want to leave us now for a little break.
What are we doing when we preach the gospel? We are unleashing upon people the power of God that produced everything visible and invisible and that’s what we have to work with and that’s what those guys standing there on that hillside listening to him say, “Now, make disciples of all nations.” Oh, yes! They didn’t know what they were working with. They didn’t understand and of it but they learned and Paul of course is the one who got it first, I think. But, Jesus knew and he said, “The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, they are life.”
OK, let’s have a little break and come back in 15 minutes, please and we will start again.